School Night Halloween is tricky. All the parties move to Saturday but you’re still craving ceremony, and so we have Scary Movie Night. But scary movies are mostly shit; right? By grace of studio interference, numbingly excessive violence and genre snobbery, we get maybe 2/3 decent horror cinema releases a year.
But what about the ones that never make it that far? With the rise of On Demand it’s possible to find an audience with minimal fuss/cost, and so more and more high quality independently financed horror films are hitting the market. Here are 10 of the best.
#10 – Session 9
You may have heard of Session 9 already. Maybe because of the infamous video of David Caruso’s inexplicable delivery of “Hey! Fuck youuuu.” Maybe because, like Grave Encounters, Session 9 is another old-abandoned-building movie whose trailer gets thrown up by the YouTube sidebar beside every non-cat video. But this is a disservice to this subtle, well written chiller, heavy on atmosphere and anchored by a terrific performance from Peter “Tyrannosaur” Mullen.
#9 Harold’s Going Stiff
Shot over 9 days and paid for by credit cards, Harold’s Going Stiff is every bit a low budget British production. But for all its faults, the central story of the Loveliest Elderly Man In The World and his battle with Onset Rigor Disorder (like zombieism, but slower) is not only a touching comment on the aging process, but also the only zombie movie to date that inspires empathy with its monsters as real (former) people; ones with a life, a story, loved ones, and someone to miss them. It’s tough to move people with a story about made up monsters, but Harold’s Going Stiff might make you gush fountains of tears instead of entrails.
#8 – Splinter
Ever wondered what’d happen if you stopped being a person and started being made of spikes? This wickedly uncomfortable monster movie makes great use of its claustrophobic location and surprisingly convincing CGI to keep you wincing and cheerily vomming into your popcorn. And that’s all there is to report. Yep.
Oh, hang on.
The sound effects.
You know that one bit in some films where someone breaks a bone and it makes the most ungodly sound known to man? That one, usually isolated moment? Splinter has thousands of those. Sometimes, thirty to forty in quick succession. You’ll want to steel yourself from that.
#7 – Midnight Meat Train
With a simultaneously brilliant and terrible title and a silent serial killer in the form of gobby soccerman Vinny Jones, MMT was pretty doomed from the outset. But this adaptation of a Clive Barker short story (probably one of the best) is well worth a look for some audaciously OTT gore – you’ll never believe how much blood you have all inside you! – and the chance to see pre-Hangover Bradley Cooper terrorized by a big scary cunt with a hammer.
#6 – The Children
I know people who are more opposed to watching this than The Human Centipede. Tom seemed pretty uncomfortable with it even being in the flat. Scary kids, that’s what does it. Not long haired ones who crawl out of wells or miaow. No, just.. just some kids. And they don’t come at you with a knife, or whatever. No, they just.. cause accidents. And if you try to stop them, they cry. Why mummy? Why are you hurting me? If that hasn’t given you chills already, I’d better get better at writing copy.
#5 – Ghostwatch
Not technically a movie, but it’s feature length and I really want to talk about it. Originally a BBC Halloween special in 1992, Ghostwatch was a deft bit of sleight of hand that masqueraded as a live show from a haunted family home in Northolt, with commentary from the studio, interviews and people manning the phones. But thanks to an almost note perfect script and super-naturalistic performances from Sarah Greene, Craig Charles and Michael Parkinson, Ghostwatch was so sublimely executed that it traumatized an entire generation of kids and drove one poor guy to suicide. It was the greatest stunt in TV history and it’s been banned from British broadcast ever since.
#4 – A Horrible Way to Die
It’s a misleading title – though there’s a fair bit of dying, and I can’t say I envy any of it especially. But a better title (I hate myself for this already) for Adam Wingard’s breakthrough feature might be (oh god) A Horrible Way to Live. Our antagonist is a man for whom killing is a compulsion, who can barely go a day without gutting a total stranger. We follow his sort-of road trip as he escapes from custody and tracks down his ex girlfriend, indiscriminately hacking as he goes, and we follow her as she struggles to cope with her history and her recovery from alcoholism. And then something happens that so dramatically turns the tables that you’ll actually catch yourself praying for the boogeyman to show up. Totes emosh.
#3 – The House of the Devil
Ti West is the closest thing that horror cinema has to a breakout independent success at the moment, thanks to his sublime The-Haunting-meets-Office-Space cinema debut The Innkeepers. But The House of the Devil is still his best work, a Terrorized Babysitter setup made essential viewing by fanatical attention to period detail, a mastery of the slow build and two sublime performances by Jocelyn Donahue and an insanely watchable Greta Gerwig. Throw it on, tell everyone it’s a piece of shit from 1981 and confuse the crap out of your friends.
#2 – I Come With the Rain
Before Tran Anh Hung – sort of a local legend in his native Korea – became known to the wider world with his stunning Norwegian Wood adaptation, he made this extremely arty, pensive and totally batshit serial killer flick with Josh Hartnett. Fans of Asian arthouse cinema, particularly the work of Beat Takeshi or Joon-Ho Bong (Memories of Murder), will love the jaw dropping cinematography, the post rock soundtrack (Radiohead, Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor), and the inventively macabre horror; Elias Koteas’ serial killer likes to make sculptures out of his victims. Good ones, too. (Wait. What? We’re not doing a joke about coming in the rain? Like even at all? What’s happened to this website? – Ed)
#1 – May
Lucky McKee’s May was the first instance I can remember of a magazine encouraging me to watch a straight-to-DVD movie. I didn’t actually watch until about 8 years later, but then MAYBE THAT’S WHY PRINT MEDIA IS DEAD.
May is a different kind of scary. There are no jumps, no long corridors. No, May‘s horror goes deeper, and it’s different for everyone.
It works as a straight up “creepy girl is creepy” film, if that’s all you’re interested in. But the genius of May is that, besides the occasional flicker of internal horror, it’s a straight up growing pains movie right until the last act, with first crushes, lesbian crushes and crushed hearts. It’s just that our heroine – and she IS our heroine – she.. doesn’t quite understand. She’s an introvert by circumstance, who wants to integrate but has to feel her way as she goes. And there’s nothing more frightening than the psycho who feels like there’s no other option.
For more of his thoughts on this kind of thing, look out for Duncan’s upcoming horror column over at bestforfilm.com, which he now has to do because he’s announced it in public.
Posted by Duncan Vicat-Brown
Duncan is WIP's assistant editor, community manager and office dachshund. When he's not tweeting from @WorkInProwess, he tweets from @DuncanVB, and he can very occasionally be found elsewhere on the internet.